A few months back I noticed that drones used by domestic law enforcement agencies were filling the headlines. By and large, the mainstream media was using pictures of military drones used in theaters of combat but accompanying those pictures with hyped up “reporting” about how law enforcement agencies nationwide were using drones for surveillance. The end result was great concern about how much “big brother” is watching, whether or not anyone’s 4th Amendment rights were being violated, and how much privacy was being lost to government imposition. This morning (as I type this) I saw a news story about how one small Colorado town has introduced legislation permitting the hunting of drones and said legislation is going to the citizens for an up or down vote.
On the one hand, like a lot of other people, I don’t like the idea of being watched. That anyone at any level of government would feel it’s okay to watch the average every day citizen, without any reason or probable cause that said citizen has committed any legal violations, is appalling. On the other hand, I have no reason to suspect that anything flying overhead is looking specifically at me. That calls for a higher level of paranoia than I currently carry. Also, as a veteran law enforcement officer relatively well versed in today’s technologies, I recognize the fact that the term “drone” applies to a great many more tools than just those military looking things we keep seeing pictures of.
For those who haven’t read my previous post(s) about this topic, let me do a brief recap and then we’ll get into that Colorado town’s pending law.
Drone, as defined by dictionary.com, “any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely.”
I would submit to you that definition of “drone” is actually too narrow. In my view, any remote controlled vehicle, whether it’s on land, sea or in the air, is a drone. Law enforcement agencies for many years now have used remote controlled robots for bomb detection and disposal, locating armed violent suspects in barricade situations, and more. We’ve used “drones” to locate marijuana crops in the middle of corn fields and have even used remote controlled “model” boats to rescue non-panicked but fatigued swimmers. Keeping that perception of a “drone” in mind, let’s talk about this Colorado town and it’s drone hunting law.
In this article about it, I read that the small town of Deer Trail had a split vote on its town council about approving the drone hunting law. Such a tied vote requires the law to now be put before the 550 residents (those of voting age anyway) to be approved or shot down (pun intended). If you read the article you see that it appears the town is really more interested in collecting the fees for the “drone stamp” than in keeping the drones out of the sky.
Let’s be realistic here for a minute: Just how much do the good folks of Deer Trail have to fear from surveillance of their day to day life by big brother? I’m not guessing it’s very much. That said, if the town makes a few dollars from the fees collected to grant people a drone hunting license and the hunters SAFELY hunt drones, who gets hurt? Well…
How about whoever owns the drone? As we in law enforcement know, remote control vehicles aren’t cheap. If one gets lost, damaged or destroyed it can be a costly venture to repair or replace. Not all agencies have the funding to do so. If it’s a federally owned drone (which is what everyone seems most worried about) then the feds may well have the money to repair or replace it but you can bet they’ll be coming after whomever shot it down, seeking to prosecute them for destruction of property and restitution for the cost of the repairs or replacement.